Tom Hanks was fresh off an unprecedented string of hit movies as a leading man when he decided to try his hand at directing. His directorial debut, That Thing You Do, followed the exploits of a fictional band called The Wonders, which had one big hit. The song in the real world, “That Thing You Do,” was only a modest hit – reaching #44 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – but if you hear it, the song still gets stuck in your head. It was written by Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne. The members of the band in the movie included Jimmy Mattingly II (Johnathon Scheach), Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn), Shades Patterson (Tom Everett Scott), and The Bass Player (Ethan Embry).
If you’ve ever looked at a comic book, you are probably aware of the garage band the Archies, which was formed by the kids at Riverdale high. The band featured Archie, Reggie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty. Fewer people probably remember that the comic characters had an animated series in the 1960’s, and fewer still realize that the show actually spawned a #1 hit. The song “Sugar, Sugar” hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 and stayed there for four weeks. It was actually sung by Ron Dante, Toni Wine and Andy Kim, whose vocals were combined with the voice actors of the Riverdale five.
Faith + 1
This list would not be complete without a band from South Park. The ninth episode of the seventh season of the animated Comedy Central show was called Christian Rock Hard, and it follows our hero, Eric Cartman, as he starts a band called Faith + 1. The name is a reference to a Christian Boy band, Plus One. All of Faith +1’s songs are based on real songs: “Three Times My Savior” is based on Lionel Ritchie’s “Three Times a Lady;” “I Wasn’t Born Again Yesterday” is based on “I’ve Never Been To Me” by Charlene; and “Jesus Baby” is their take on “Didn’t’ I (Blow Your Mind)” by The Delfonics. The songs contain classic Cartman lyrics like, “Whenever I see Jesus up on that cross / I say to myself / He looks really hot.”
Eddie and the Cruisers
Eddie and the Cruisers released an album that went triple platinum, the soundtrack to a movie that was a total bomb. Eddie and the Cruisers was a risky venture that got started when Martin Davidson optioned the novel by P.F. Kluge about a fictitious rock band. The movie was originally set to be released by Time Life, which had gotten into the film business. However, after two disastrous films, Time Life walked, and the movie was in limbo. It was released and bombed. However, repeated showings of the movie on HBO ignited the film’s soundtrack, which featured dive bar group John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band. Cafferty and his band were selected by Davidson, who wanted a band with the Jersey bar sound of Bruce Springsteen. The movie made Caffery’s band a huge hit. When the soundtrack was released, no one cared. But post-HBO, it sold 4 million copies. The movie that bombed eventually became something of a cult hit, responsible for multiple re-printings of the novel and re-releases of the soundtrack.
Big Fun is the fictional band that is integral to the plot of the Winona Ryder/Christian Slater movie, Heathers. In the movie, a petition that Slater’s character has been circulating to get the band Big Fun to perform is actually a mass suicide note. The song “Teenage Suicide” was released as a single to the soundtrack. The song is discussed by the teenagers throughout the dark comedy. The song was released as a single and in reality is performed by members of Let’s Active. It was written by Don Dixon, one of the pioneers of what has been called “jangle pop,” a subgenre of punk-pop from the 1980’s.
Jem and the Holograms
If you have not sung aloud to the theme song from Jem and the Holograms – “JEM – Truly, Truly Outrageous” – then you were not truly alive in the 1980’s. The animated series featuring punk girls with rainbow-colored hair was a massive hit. Hasbro proved it took the music seriously by releasing tapes of the singles with the dolls of the girls. Jem started in the era when music videos took off because of MTV. The animated series featured an amazing 187 music videos and 151 unique songs. A group of musicians and singers, performing as “Pizzazz”, is responsible for the Jem sound – Britta Phillips (Jem), Gordon Grody (Riot), as well as Diva Gray, Florence Warner and Angela Capelli.
The 1984 rock mockumentary This is Spinal Tap has stood the test of time as a comedy and an incisive look at the rock industry. The movie is written directed and co-starring CHristopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. The movie follows the pretensions and wild antics of fictional group Spinal Tap, and it mocks the rock documentaries of the time, which made their subjects look like gods. The movie has been praised by everyone from Nirvana to Led Zeppelin to Ozzy Osbourne. The music wound up being pretty popular, and it set the stage for other Guest productions, like A Mighty Wind.
Christopher Guest’s 2003 movie A Mighty Wind is a send up of the folk music scene of the 1960’s, and it features a number of groups who are preparing for a big reunion concert. The Folksmen are a folk music trio who perform in the movie and also appeared for performances on TV and stage (including LA’s the Greek Theater, Carnegie Hall, and Wembley Arena, where they opened for… Spinal Tap.) Guest, McKean and Shearer are The Folksmen. The songs and lyrics are pretty on point for the time they were supposed to be written. In the song A Mighty Wind, the trio harmonizes with typical folk lyrics: “From a lighthouse in Barr Harbor, to a bridge called Golden Gate, / From a troller down in Shreveport, to the shore of one great lake, / There’s a star on the horizon, and it’s burning like a flame, / It’s lighting up this mighty wind, that’s blowin’ everywhere….” but mixed with a fart joke. What’s not to love? Mitch & Mickey and The New Main Street Singers also deserve a bow.
The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers made their debut as a sketch in 1978 on Saturday Night Live. The fictional blues duo is portrayed by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Belushi is lead singer Jake Blues, while Aykroyd is the harmonica maestro Elwood Blues. The band included some well known blues musicians, such as Steve Cropper from Booker T. and the MG’s and Matt Murphy, who played with Howlin’ Wolf, among others. The band had a life outside of SNL, releasing an album in 1978. They opened for the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve 1978 at the closing of San Francisco’s Winterland Arena. A film adaptation was released in 1980. The musicians reunited in 1998 for a new movie and tour, Blues Brothers: 2000. JIm Belushi and John Goodman have also appeared with the band.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
In 1966, the Beatles were having a crisis. They were too popular to safely tour and had retired from touring. In the meantime, the music industry had shifted toward psychedelic rock. The Beatles label was worried that their popularity was waning. To cope with these sudden shifts, Paul McCartney started to create a fictional band to wrap around their Beatles personas. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was at once a bit of a lark, a go at psychedelic rock, and an ingenious bit of reinvention. At the time, bands could only mix four tracks at once, which made the band experts at manipulating and arranging sound. The result was an unlikely masterpiece which turned 50 years old in 2017. In 1978, the Beatles ex-manager George Martin produced a movie based on the band. Since the Beatles never performed the songs live, the movie ran with the conceit that this was the actual St. Peppers Band. The members included Billy Shears (played by Peter Frampton), Mark Henderson (Barry Gibb), David (Robin Gibb), and Bob (Maurice Gibb).